Introduction and Overview

This project gave our team the opportunity to experience the processes, deliverables, tensions, joys, and frustrations of working on a game team in the professional world. Instead of a one-semester project, this project begins in the Spring of 2020 and concludes with another team in the Fall of 2020. Our team’s goal this semester is to create a clear and concise pre-production package to hand off for the next team to build. We have built a tactical role-playing game with a unique plague mechanic, loosely based off of the Black Plague pandemic.

You play as a disciple of the Devil who has been given powers of the Plague to take over the world in his name. Your goal is to destroy the High Priest and his followers to secure the Devil’s rule onto Earth, in accordance with the contract you have signed with him that gave you these unholy powers. 

We took an iceberg approach to our development, creating a piece of what would be a larger experience. We are focusing on the climax of what would be that full experience, where players will fight against the High Priest to secure the Devil’s rule onto the world.


What Went Well

We all think that the biggest point of success for our team is our transition to remote development. Due to the coronavirus outbreak that swept the nation, all project teams had to switch to remote learning from Spring Break onwards. Due to this transition, acclimating to the new environment was a journey on its own. With that being said, our team did a great job in this transition. Our development cycle was barely affected by this change, and we were able to finish our pre-production package to the degree we initially strove for.


What Could Have Been Better

To quickly address the elephant in the room, the main mechanic of our game has been scrutinized due to the state of the world that we were in during the Spring of 2020. We came up with the idea of controlling the plague as an evil character very early on in our development. Once the coronavirus outbreak took over the nation, we were already well into building the game and designing characters from this idea. We spoke amongst ourselves and to our advisors, and decided to finish what we started. If we were to do this project all over again, we absolutely would have chosen a different setting and game mechanic as to not correlate our game using plague powers to destroy the world with a real-world “plague” that is killing thousands of people. 

Among the various missteps we believe that our team has taken in development throughout the semester, they all can basically be condensed into two major points:

      • As a team, we were too conflict averse.
      • We approached the Pre-Production process incorrectly.

When you initially read the first point, it seems like a possible good aspect of our team dynamic. Conflict between group members is usually seen as a negative for a team. However, this hurt us for several reasons. Our artists had trouble in creating both the characters and environment because the rest of the team had little feedback to give them. Whether it was because we actually liked the direction or it was because we did not want to hurt the artists’ feelings, we almost always gave close to no feedback to them. This also hurt us when discussing our ideas with faculty. Instead of holding true to what we believed would make the game interesting and fun, we usually ended up heading in whatever direction that was recommended to us by them. This ended up mitigating the “exploration” aspect of pre-production for us, inhibiting our ability to support our decisions we made about the game.

The second point, approaching the Pre-Production process incorrectly, is where we believe that we made our biggest mistake. We were given a choice at the beginning of the semester as to whether we wanted our game to be chosen for us, or have us come up with it ourselves. After sitting down to discuss our options, we ended up deciding to make a tactical RPG since all of us had an interest in the genre. In hindsight, this decision was our biggest blunder in the entire semester. Strategy games and role-playing games are two genres that are way out of scope for the time and team size we have. 

Our project description mentioned how this whole semester should be an exploration into finding what works and is fun in our game. We came up with the plague being our main mechanic within the first few weeks, but we were unable to begin testing it digitally for much longer. This is because tactics games rely so heavily on several underlying systems that need to be built before we could add anything new and interesting. 

It was not until about week 9 (over halfway through the semester) that we added any plague-related mechanics. We were able to easily test out mechanics in a paper prototype quickly, but there are several aspects about playing a physical tactics game over a digital one that cannot be ignored. It is an entirely different experience to playtest a digital tactics game, where some mechanics and rules just simply do not translate well into a digital space. By that point, we essentially lost most of our time to explore. We basically translated to being a development team over pre-production.

As for the RPG side of the game, it is almost completely omitted in our experience. To create an RPG, there needs to be some sort of actual role-playing in the game. With our experience being reduced to playing one level of what would be a larger game, there really was not much room to add that sort of gameplay within the experience. Our earlier ideas included, stats, leveling, choices within the story where players choose sides, etc. All of these were drastically out of scope, and had to be taken out. We made the decision to make the game a simple “Good vs Evil” story for the sake of simplicity. We did not have the time to create the fleshed out, multi-faceted world we originally set out to create.


Lessons Learned

In a pre-production setting with a team of developers that have no expectations set on them about what they should create,  we believe that you should not begin with choosing a genre. The tactical RPG genre severely hampered our development, restricting our creative endeavors. Once we decided on our main “mechanic” being plague, we should have focused more on plague-games over a tactics game with a new plague mechanic. We should have been rapid-prototyping a bunch of small games that use the plague in interesting ways, not taking time to build the infrastructure of a genre that may or may not work with our mechanic.

We also learned a lot about the idea of pre-production, both in general and in our specific project setting. Pre-Production is a very loaded term that means something a little different to everyone in the industry. Asking two people about what is most important to work on next during a pre-production phase can easily give you drastically different answers. Instead of looking for specific steps to take, we should have focused more on the exploration side of thinking. We should have taken more time to explore more with the idea we generated. We developed backwards, since we came up with the type of game before the “theme” or “focus” that our game showcases.

Wrapping up this project is essentially compiling all art documentation, design documentation, and our white-box prototype to send off to next semester’s team who will develop the game we have set up for them. While there were several difficulties during our project this semester, the knowledge we have gained about working in a pre-production environment was priceless. The struggles we have faced have taught us how to better react in scenarios like these in the future, making us better developers and collaborators in the process.

Development Blog: Week 14

Week 14 consisted of softs with faculty, and finalizing our art, design, and code documentation. We want to finalize all of our documentation in a neat and parsable format to ease the onboarding of the next team.

Starting with softs, we received quite a lot of valuable feedback about all aspects of our project. The biggest piece of feedback we received was to prepare to strongly back the “why’s” of our project. Since we are a team creating a game entirely from our imagination, we should expect to have to explain exactly why we ended up on every decision we made. This feedback helped us better prepare the format of our Finals presentation to answer the “why’s” for the faculty. 

Looking at documentation, all three fields within our team really nailed down to finish up our documentation this week. We created an Index document for our Design section that will help the next team be able to navigate through all of our documentation.

We also have made much progress in finishing up our Art documentation, along with final Environment Art and Model Sheets. We want all of our Art to be gathered in a single pdf that clearly shows the iteration process of all characters and environment sketches. We want to convey to the next team exactly why we made the artistic decisions we did, so they can easily understand our intentions. This will allow the next artists to quickly pick up where our artists left off.

                                                        Model Sheet for the Swiss Guard Unit.

Finally, we sat down as a team to have a post-mortem about the semester. We discussed the hardships of our project, and where we believe that we could have mitigated some of the difficulties. A write up of the major points from this discussion can be found in the “Post-Mortem”.

Development Blog: Week 13

Week 13 consisted of finishing our last major sprint for the semester, along with preparing final documentation and artwork. As stated in our previous blog post, our sprint this week consisted of tweaking the UI in accordance with several pieces of feedback we received last week. The main two features that we asked to be implemented were:

    1. Allow the player to cancel unit selection. Once they selected a character, they felt like they were forced to use them because there was no UI indicator that they could cancel. There actually was a way to do this in the prototype, but nothing that the UI presented indicated this
    2. Allow players to more easily see the movement and health of units without needing to select them.

As you can see in the images below, we have implemented these changes within our prototype during this week’s sprint:

When hovering over a unit, players can see their movement and attack range. This allows them to better plan out their strategies. Also, health for all units is now placed below their character model.

We also added a clear undo button for moving and attacking, giving players an option to back out of these decisions in case they change their mind.


Another change we made had to do with our previously named Pope character. As you can see in the screenshots about, we changed his name to High Priest. It came to our attention from playtest feedback that using the name Pope can lead to greatly offending Catholic/Christian followers. While our game is based off of 14th century France, our world and characters are completely fake. For instance, our altar has a giant statue that depicts an angel (referenced to have similarities to Saint Michael the Archangel). Catholic churches always have their main altars/statues depict some form of Christ, so we are hoping that this visual indicator helps to show players that this is not the Catholic Church. With that being said, we changed the name Pope to High Priest to help mitigate any offense that may be taken from our experience. The last thing we want to do is offend people with the game that we create, so we think that this is the correct decision for our team. Unfortunately, the High Priest still shares physical characteristics of the Pope. We do not have the bandwidth to completely change his concept art with the time we have remaining, so we will leave that up to the next team to determine whether they believe it best to visually differentiate him more from the real world Pope. 

On the art side, we have begun to create final model sheets for some of the characters, including the main character and High Priest, shown below:

This should help the 3D artists next semester to understand how to create these characters in a 3D model. We also iterated on our final environment concept art, tweaking the windows, scaling of various objects, and improving the lighting: 

We also have made great strides in forming our Art Documentation that will be passed along to the team next semester. This documentation will showcase the moodboard, initial sketches, iterations, and final concepts for the team next semester to review. We want to set the next team up to easily understand our head space for the art we have created this semester. This should allow them to more quickly build from our foundation. 

Next week will be softs where our team will sit down with faculty, and discuss how to best finish our project with the time we have remaining.

Development Blog: Week 12

Week 12 consisted of receiving feedback from faculty, alumni, and other students on our current state of our prototype. Looking at the feedback given by our playtesters, we received generally favorable reviews on the core gameplay and its mechanics. The biggest piece of constructive feedback we received all centered around the UX/UI.  Players had trouble selecting certain units due to the camera, they could not de-click units after selecting them, and they wanted to see movement and attack ranges of units before selecting them.

With that being said, our next sprint is focused on all of the UI issues players had in our prototype. We are focusing on allowing players to more easily see health, movement range, and attack range of units without being stuck selecting them. This includes the enemy units as well. We want players to be able to more easily plan out strategies by being able to visually see all of the options both they and their enemies have.

We are also looking ahead to the next team, and are designing concepts for how to make the ranged units in the game more unique. From visuals to mechanics, we want to make sure these units feel as different as possible from their melee counterparts. 

To add to this idea, our artists have been brainstorming and sketching ideas on how these units will look visually. We are planning on making the ranged Swiss Guard have an armor variation as archers would not have pauldrons and chest plates on due to them limiting movement to shoot. Our initial idea is to give them leather armor to allow for more body and arm movement. As for allied “archer” characters, we are making them a different “chimera” variation on gargoyles. We have their ranged attacks to be shooting stones at enemies in some shape or form. We decided on making the ranged gargoyles more snake-like, giving them the ability to spit out rocks at enemies. This will give them an extreme visual difference to both their enemy ranged and allied melee counterparts.


Adding onto our Melee Gargoyle from last week, we tested and decided on a color scheme we like:


The finalized color choice for our Melee Gargoyle

We also have made a lot of progress on the concept art for the Cathedral building. We want it to showcase the grandness and majesty of the building.We want it to convey everything that a real-life cathedral does in people who enter them. This will give the artists next semester a strong idea of how to build this style in 3D. Seen below are the iterations the Cathedral has gone through throughout the week.



Next week will be focusing on preparing for softs with faculty, making sure that we tackle as many issues expressed by playtesters this week. This will be the last major feedback we receive before handing off our pre-production package to the next team, so we want to make sure we can get as much new feedback as possible.

Development Blog: Week 11

Week 11 for a preparation week for us to send out our prototype to ETC alumni for playtesting. The ETC usually hosts a Playtesting Day where people of all ages and backgrounds come to the building to test our games. However, this event has been cancelled due to the Coronavirus pandemic. We pivoted this by now sending ETC alumni who previously signed up playable builds for them to playtest and give feedback on. With that being said, we wanted to focus on what we could add to our digital prototype to give these playtesters the best idea of what our concept is for combat. 

With that being said, we decided on creating a skill for the Plague Doctor to execute now that our magic system was properly placed into the prototype. We believe that showcasing some of that magic that we took time to implement (and plague magic especially) will give playtesters a better idea of what the gameplay is heading towards for the final product. Our next sprint was decided to focus on adding a corpse explosion mechanic for the Plague Doctor. Dead units on the field that have the plague can be blown up with the Plague Doctor’s magic, causing damage and infecting plague on surrounding units.

We also created several design documents this week to pass onto the next team, such as UX and Dialogue. These are meant to be ideas we had, and why we came to them. They should be used as a base for the team next semester to work from so they do not have to start from the beginning. 

Looking at the art side of things, we focused on the Gargoyle Unit for characters and materials for the environment in unity. Upon iterating on several different designs for the Gargoyle, we have discussed and focused on specific characteristics we want out of the unit. We want these units to be bulky and menacing, while still resembling a more animal-like silhouette. We will begin playing with color palettes to see which color scheme fits  best with the gargoyles.

As for materials, we have created materials for the floor, walls, and altar. Like the design documents above, these are meant to be a baseline for the team next semester to build off of. We also placed the 2D characters within the environment to get a feel for what they look like in-game. This includes how the lighting and camera will look when presenting these characters.

Next week we will focus on feedback from the alumni playtesting to find out what would be best to showcase with the remaining time we have left before handing this off to the next team. We will also begin to finalize concept art, both with environments and characters. We will also make sure that we have properly documented all of our exploration, detailing why we made the decisions we did.

Development Blog: Week 10

Week 10 was our first full week of development with our newly sanctioned remote development. This week consisted of deciding on what aspects of our pre-production package need to get done with the remaining weeks we have before the semester ends.

With three weeks remaining until softs, we sat down to discuss what components we think are most important to showcase within our digital prototype. We decided that showcasing the skills of the Plague that the main character uses will be most important. As the game is focused around the main character using and spreading the Plague, we feel that having our white box prototype showcase these mechanics is our top priority. That being said, our current sprint is focusing on implementing a magic system in the game for characters to be able to use abilities (including Plague skills with the main character). We also have begun to play around with unit placement and level design within our digital prototype, now that archers and barricades are created in the project for us to play around with. 

Looking ahead to the next semester, we have created Design Documents and test cases for the Swiss Guards and Gargoyles (allied units) that we plan to be implemented in the next semester. These documents explain their inspiration, story background, and battle mechanics in detail for those reading to fully understand what each unit is created for. 

Looking at the art side, we have begun to create the outline for the Art Documentation to be handed off to the team next semester. We want to make sure all finalized concept art is clear and easily parsable for next semester’s art team to reference. We also have some more finalized sketches of the Pope and main character, along with rough sketches of the Swiss Guard Unit (see below).

We also are trying out materials for the 3D model to create the style we want to showcase in the game. We want to do some preliminary work with materials and lighting to place next semester’s artists at a better spot for finishing the experience. We also are going to photoshop the character designs within the level to test how they look within the environment. That, along with creating and testing several designs for the decorations for the interior of the Cathedral (see below).

Development Blog: Week 9

Week 9 for the team was almost fully dedicated to transitioning to remote development. Due to our school’s shutdown during our Spring Break, we spent this week setting equipment up and discussing how to proceed forward. Thankfully, the nature of our project lends itself quite well to remote development. Our semester goals have not changed, as we are still going to create a full pre-production package for the team to use next semester.

Looking at Design, we began to research Swiss Guards as they will be the inspiration for our generic enemy units. They are the armed forces that protect the Pope in our world, so we believe that their design would be a great base to build off of. We also reorganized all of our design documents on our drive folder to more easily navigate through all files we have.




         Swiss Guard References

Art has begun to work on more detailed sketches of the Plague Doctor Unit, attempting to get an idea of what our final Plague Doctor design will look like. We also are creating more detailed sketches of the Cathedral to accurately show the tone and feel that the area should invoke in the players.

Last but not least, we are placing placeholder UI in our Digital Prototype to more easily be able to playtest our game. We are preparing for the team to playtest the prototype on Monday to figure out what next mechanic or fix we want to focus on for our next sprint. In summary, this week mainly focused on preparing for remote development for the rest of the semester. We are planning to resume normal sprints starting next week.

Development Blog: Week 8


Week 8 for the team was focused on starting to zone in on specifics a bit in all disciplines. From an art perspective, we started honing in on iterating on specifics in terms of aesthetics. For instance, we started really looking at what we wanted the player character to look like. We have decided for simplicity that the player character should be visually completely evil. We want him to be more of a force of nature type villain to easily explain his motivations. With that being said, we started focusing on what details on the main character could make him seem more unmistakingly evil to the players. Since the plague doctor-like mask is the focal point of the character’s design, we started concepting variations of the mask to try to get the evil nature of the character across.

We also have begun further iteration on interior design of the Cathedral. We started honing in on more throne designs, and added the Altar behind the throne to further construct the area where the head of the church (final boss) will be located, seen below:



In terms of looking at design and programming, most of this week consisted of bug fixing and tweaking the interactivity of the digital prototype to get it running for testing starting in Week 9. We also began brainstorming what generic units on the Devil’s side may consist of. We are playing around with the idea of Gargoyles as they are frequently connected with evil in many stories. Overall, this week was more focused on tweaking than major changes/breakthroughs as Our Halves presentation and feedback was the main focus of the week.

Development Blog: Week 7

To prepare for our halves presentation, we sat down to discuss and filter down the most important aspects of our development so far. We decided to split our presentation into the three major components of our team; Design, Art, and Programming.  

We detailed the journey of our progress through each of the disciplines, from ideation of major concepts to our current state. We finished off each section with an idea of what our future plans are for each discipline. 

The quick and easy discipline to discuss would be the Art team, as their future plans have little revamp from our current process. They will be continuing to iterate on all major characters and environments in the game, creating concept art for all assets that we anticipate to be created in the final product. For instance, we have begun to brainstorm different styles of clothing for the head of the church character, seen below:

We are currently going through a process of iteration where the team sits down at the end of every other day to go over designs the artists have concepted to give feedback. For the image above, we discussed which cape and headpiece variations we like more for his character.

On the environment side, we created a simple 3D model of the Cathedral hall to begin using in our digital prototype. We also started sketching out symbols that could be used to represent the religious faction, also doing weekly reviews for what symbols we like and dislike.

We also are delving into what the interior of the Cathedral will look like, such as the windows and throne within the Hall.

Where we have made some drastic changes is in our process of Design and Programming. We are fully converting to Sprint cycles from here on out. We are now at a point that our digital prototype contains the base playable version of our gameplay in 3D, so we can finally begin to playtest with it to naive guests. Basically, we will be playtesting our digital prototype every Monday with our advisors and other playtesters to get feedback on our current build. We will then sit down as an entire team to discuss the feedback we received, and what we should focus on for our next sprint to best match our feedback. We would then split design into working with the digital prototype to make sure our sprint is heading towards the direction we want it to go towards, and working with the physical prototype on ideas for the next mechanic to be implemented. 

Example of 3D digital Prototype

Essentially, the designers will both be working in the current sprint to make sure it is completed correctly, while also brainstorming and anticipating what our next sprint may entail. We think this process will help us to focus on the core of our experience, while also narrowing our scope into making only what is essential. Most of our previous “iterations” on our gameplay have only been through inside our team, so we may be biased as to what works and what does not. We want to be sure that our game is understandable and fun to players who have never seen it before, so we need to be testing with a naive audience to ensure that this is true.

Development Blog: Week 6

In Week 6, our team began building assets specifically for our prototype level we will be making for our final product. We wanted to begin building something presentable this week because we have presentations with our faculty during our eighth week of development. We made some hard decisions about what exactly we wanted to build, and why we came to these conclusions. 

We started with what levels and environments we wanted to include in the game. Given that we only essentially have a total of about 6 months of development, it would be hard to create a full experience that has the proper amount of care put in to every beat. Whereas a Vertical Slice of a larger experience gives us a small scope that allows for care and iteration necessary to make it feel fun and complete, while having it show what a full game of its type would feel like. In case you are unaware, a vertical slice is a term that basically means cutting out a small piece of a full game and creating that small section to a shippable state. With the aim of around 2 hours of total playtime for our final product at the end of the next semester, a complete tactical RPG of that size would feel rushed and incomplete. If we pick a small subsection of what could be a full tactical RPG experience, we get to get right to the best part of the experience (i.e. the climax) while hinting towards what more could be offered.

To decide which part of the full experience we wanted to slice out to create our prototype, we first needed to solidify what a full experience of our game would be. We decided to figuratively and literally map out our experience, seen below:

We created a high level story arc that maps out the journey our Protagonist would take to serve the Devil. He would begin by receiving the Plague powers due to the contract taken by the Devil, and join up with the rebellious faction to help take down the Church. He and the army would march to destroy all influence the Church holds in the South (seen at point 1), battle to cross into the Northern half of the country (seen at point 2), storm the Capital to kill the King and take control of the apparent seat of power (seen at point 3), then realize they need to storm the Great Cathedral Hall of the Pope equivalent to take down the true seat of power in the country (seen at point 4). Since we are to building only one piece of the experience, we decided that it would make the most sense to build the most interesting piece. Therefore, our prototype will cover the final assault on the Great Cathedral Hall of the head of the Church.

From this point, we jumped in to conceptualize the hall. We wanted to take inspirations from real world Gothic Cathedrals as a start, and then tweak it to fit our needs. Since we will be having a full-scale battle within this great hall, it will most likely have to be a bit larger than a standard cathedral. This also matches the idea that the head of the Church is a corrupt man who has used the powers granted to him to take from those who worship him. It would only make sense that his Cathedral would be ridiculously gigantic and grand. 

Speaking of the head of the Church, we started to flesh him out as a character. Since he is technically the “final boss” of what would be the full experience, we wanted to make him a foil to our Plague Doctor protagonist. The Plague Doctor is a sympathetic “villain” who uses evil powers for arguably noble reasons as he is trying to save his daughter. We decided to have the head of the Church to be a “good” character who is only fighting the army to keep his own wealth and status. The Plague Doctor is using evil powers for good purposes, while the head of the Church is using holy powers for evil and selfish purposes. The head of the Church also received his magic from signing a contract with an angel, giving solidarity to how our magic system works. Humans only receive Holy and Demonic magic if they establish a contractual agreement with divine beings. 

Speaking of powers, our designers started brainstorming what divine powers the head of the Church may use in the level. That along with how to best structure the level both for difficulty and engagement. As seen above, the level layout is going to be a long hallway, with the boss seated at the end of the hall on his throne. We wanted to make sure the level layout was more interesting than just a straight hallway, so we began to play around with mechanics that would change how to navigate the space. If you look above, there are seven dice that are circled in red. These are labeled as light beam paths, which is a magic skill that the boss uses. He will randomly choose from 0-2 rows (depending on how much the player has progressed through the map), and shoot a beam of light down it. This damages your units, and destroys any plague infested bodies in its path. The four-sided dice circled in blue are barricades where units cannot walk through. The combination of these two mechanics forces the player to think about how they are moving through the hall. Other iterations with the level include implementation of enemy reinforcements, enemy AI behavior for those who protect the boss, and number of allies to enemies. 

After conducting our first series of playtests with outside players, we found that people found the many character classes to be a lot to remember, and they did not use the plague mechanic much at all. The issue of character classes can be easily solved by simply removing classes to see if the gameplay is still balanced with less intricacy. The lack of using the plague was a big problem, though. If players were not incentivized to use the core mechanic of our game, we are doing something horribly wrong. We are currently in the process implementing new features with the plague to make it more attractive to players. For instance, we created a resurrecting mechanic to bring corpses with the plague back to life. This incentivizes the player to use the plague mechanic more as they will gain more units for battle this way.

Camera Rotation Preview

We also started a mockup of the UI for the gameplay, along with playing around with controlling the camera when navigating the map. We have started trying out how we want the player to be able to rotate and zoom the camera when playing the game. Taking inspiration from other games in the genre such as Fire Emblem, we have implemented rotation snapping. The player is able to rotate the camera left or right in increments of 60 degrees, allowing them to view the map from several different angles. They are also able to zoom in and out of the map, allowing players to focus on any character they want to closely look at. We want players to be able to really explore the maps in the game, as we find touches like these to make it feel much more complete.

Last but certainly not least, we have made great strides in the progress of our digital prototype. We have the Plague Doctor being able to infect all units on the field with the plague, and have the possibility of spreading it each turn. Units that die with the plague also resurrect to be Undead units that fight for you. There is an initial UI for players to be able to view character portraits and select what each unit’s action will be. Overall, we have made great strides in our development this week! This places us in a very good spot for next week as we prepare for our halves presentations during Week 8.